Promoting to new parents: It's about time

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For marketers in the baby and parenting industry the customer life cycle is precious. New parents are constantly coming along while existing clients change their needs quickly and grow out of the market, as fast as kids grow out of clothes. The new parenting marketplace is peppered with product offerings for online publications and e-mail newsletters that give parents information about their new life phase.

Online magazine iParenting Media has found that there is a nuance to communicating with parents, based on the life cycle. The online publication has 20 different e-mail newsletters that it sends out weekly to build relationships with its readership.

"Parenting is such a broad topic, that we've taken a very granular approach to make our communications relevant," says Alvin All, CEO of iParenting Media, Evanston, IL. "We have information for people who are trying to conceive, through the parents of teens. We speak to them based on their life cycle."

IParenting has Web sites dedicated to pre-conception, pregnancy, baby and toddler, preschool and toddler, preschool and child, and preteen and teen. The sites have experienced about 1 million to 1.5 million unique users monthly. More than half of these visitors are e-mail subscribers. There are about 600,000 to 700,000 names on the entire list.

Information on these sites includes things like nutrition for both babies and pregnant mothers, safety for toddlers and recommendations on good entertainment for kids.

"When you are a new parent, you are interested in finding out about all of these new products and services that you never knew you needed," says Lana McGilvray of New York-based Datran Media, the firm that hosts iParenting Media's e-mail platform. "Fear is a big determining factor with this group. A fear of the unknown and of a new experience compels many parents to seek out information."

Evolving marketing cycles
This may include tips on safety and how to guides that help a new parent learn the best ways to take care of their new child. But this messaging is only relevant if it is constantly changing to keep up with the growing infant.

"It is critical that marketers stay on top of how old the child is," says Morgan Stewart, director of research and strategy at e-mail services firm Exact Target, Indianapolis.

McGilvray agrees with this strategy, emphasizing the potential in these customers.

"The messaging seems to evolve from expected parents into child rearing and education," she says. "It's got to be one of the longest life-time customer cycles, but you have to stay on top of the timeline."

Different calls to action
The call to action is key when communicating with new parents. According to McGilvray, marketers should focus on what type of action they are looking to elicit from their customers, whether it is to drive a sale, or merely to engage customers with informative content, which most of these online newsletters aim to do.

E-mail newsletters are a popular way to be informative to customers and to help build customer retention, while offering discounts on expensive products and services such as diapers and bottles can be a good way to acquire new parents or parents to be who are faced with a whole new shopping list.

Online baby information and promotions site BabytoBee uses paid search as well as Datran Media's e-mail platform to send offers to new customers. According to McGilvray, the baby-products retailer sends e-mails to a list of 4.2 million pre- and post-natal parents with coupons for free diapers, free subscriptions to baby magazines and gift vouchers.

"Free stuff is a big draw," McGilvray remarked. "Baby products can be expensive and new parents are not used to having to buy so much of it."

Guidelines for sensitivity
Even if a marketer is aware of a woman's due date, it may be best not to mention it. iParenting has a higher rate of unsubscribes around the time of the delivery date, probably due to the fact that mothers who have given birth are no longer in need of a prenatal newsletter. Still, iParenting does not push the next phase of the newsletter on its customers.

"In every newsletter we are showing the next step, the pregnancy newsletter has a link to the baby channel," says iParenting's All. "But we don't trigger any messaging to invite them to sign up for the baby phase. Many women miscarry and we don't want to assume that they have a baby."

Online parenting newsletter Today's Parent, which is powered by New York-based CheetahMail, sees this issue as a good place to be aware of list hygiene.

"We have to be really careful to keep the data clean," says Hailey Biback, general manager at Today's Parent. "We want to make sure that no one gets an e-mail that they don't want."

IParenting has found that viral marketing is key to growing its subscriber base, because parents tend to trust other parents.

"There is nothing stronger than word of mouth," notices All. "Getting your message out from one mother is so much stronger than iParenting paying for a Google sponsorship."

IParenting runs user-generated campaigns in order to get the community of parents excited. The site lets users upload photos and videos of their kids for contests, and promotes these through e-mail, as well.

The new influencers

To complicate things further, as children grow up, so does their influence on the products that they consume. Marketers are challenged with the unique perspective of trying to win over two very different audiences.

"Around 3 or 4 a child becomes a big influencer, as their opinions play a bigger role in the purchase decision," Stewart observed. "The key is to win the attention of the child, while winning the trust of the parent."

Add the complications of e-mail as an older medium. Disney released a campaign in which it hosted free games on its Web site that appealed to kids, while requiring parents to give an e-mail address to sign up for membership. Through this the marketer can send messages about products to parents, while engaging the child.

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